Childcare by Tara Puckey
When Gina Pastor and her husband, Staff Sgt. Adam Pastor, welcomed their daughter Alexandra to the world, they knew the challenges that come with being a military family. And among the chief of their concerns was childcare. “We had to find somewhere we trusted to put our daughter while my husband was in the field and I was looking for work,” Gina said. The Pastors are not alone. With frequent deployments, long stints of training and unpredictable work schedules, quality childcare is more important than ever to military families. Constantly moving to unfamiliar communities can make the search even more challenging, and finding something acceptable and affordable is often a daunting task. The DOD recognized this need and established Child Development Centers (CDCs) at military installations around the world. There currently are more than 800 of the facilities, all of Above: Children at the Child Development Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
which meet professional standards for early childhood education. Typically, CDCs offer care for children ages six weeks to 12 years. Most centers are open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., although the hours vary by individual centers. In an effort to make child care financially feasible for military families, the DoD provides funding to CDCs. Because of the subsidies, military childcare is often the most affordable option for many families. The DoD established a standardized sliding scale based on Total Family Income. Families must complete DD Form 2652, the Application for Department of Defense Child Care Fees, to verify income. Once established, each family will be charged according to a categorical scale.
Above: U.S.A.F. Senior Airman Kyle Strang reads to children at the Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., CDC. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Sanchelli
Left: Brooklyn Puckey, 3, practices writing letters in shaving cream during preschool class in Indiana. Photo by Tara Puckey
The DoD recently updated childcare fees for the first time since the 2004-05 schoolyear to account for inflation and increased usage. The policy, which goes into effect for the 20102011 school year, will adjust the fee range, and establish the top earning range at $125,000 a year and above for a more equitable policy. Previously, families earning more than $70,000 a year paid the same fee for child care. Under the new policy, families will see either a small decrease or increase in their fees depending on their total family income. Families earning $85,000 and below will experience relatively minimal changes. Each military service will provide fee guidelines specific to their installations. Visit www.defense.gov/news/d20100730f ees.pdf for more information. But affordability isn’t the only advantage to using a CDC. Sometimes it’s all about location and safety. After their move to Ft. Leonard Wood, the Pastors realized they didn’t have many alternatives to the CDC.
U.S. Air Force photo by Don Lindsey
At Right: Children from the Los Angeles AFB Child Development Center learned about selecting nutritious fruits and vegetables at the base commissary. U.S. Air Force photo by Lou Hernandez
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“We were kind of isolated and there weren’t many other options,” Gina said. “Because of that, I worried
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Tips for Choosing Childcare
1. Safety First
Make sure you ask about safety and security policies. Find out the protocol for checking your child in and out and what the supervision ratio is for each age bracket. Look into procedures for emergencies and don’t forget to make sure toys are sanitized and playground equipment is installed correctly.
2. Oops, You’re Late Traffic, accidents or just a little distraction. Everyone is late at one point or another, so check to see what kind of late charges occur if you’re not on time to pick up your child. Many facilities have policies for frequent tardiness, so be sure you arrive on time in order to keep your spot, or to not be charged.
3. I’m Hungry! Check into the types of meals and snacks the facility serves and also how the food is prepared — especially if your child has a food allergy. Do they accommodate specific requests for vegetarians or religious observances if requested? If your child is extra particular, find out the center’s policy about parents providing food.
4. We’re on Vacation For most childcare facilities, you’ll still be required to pay while you’re away on vacation or if your child has an extended illness. Some
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facilities offer a certain number of days as credit to be used toward vacation or will work with you if a child will be out for a significant period of time. If this is the case, make sure you have it in writing to use as a reference later.
5. You’re a Visitor
Since the facility is watching your child, it only makes sense that you would want to feel welcome and wanted. Check with the provider as to their rules for visiting and observing and even for volunteering for class parties or activities.
6. Time Out
Discipline can be a touchy subject for parents, so it’s important to be clear up front. Find out what the step-by-step guidelines are for discipline, which most facilities and providers will already have in writing. If you aren’t comfortable with something, discuss it so that you prevent problems in the future. Most importantly, continue to communicate with your child’s caregivers on a regular basis.
7. Cough, Cough Ask the childcare what their policy is regarding sick children. Each facility has different rules and limitations on fevers, coughs and runny noses. It’s not a bad idea to ask if they have a “sick child” option, where your child can still attend but be isolated or on restricted activities.
8. You’re My Teacher, Cook and Nurse? Meet the entire staff, not just the teacher your child will have. Find out about staff and teacher education and certifications. It’s also helpful to find out the turnover rate for staff, so you’ll know the likelihood of your child’s caregiver being replaced mid-year. Another note: high turnover can indicate a serious problem in the operation of the facility.
9. Overall Philosophies Find out the facility’s overall childcare philosophy. If you’re more interested in a learning environment, see if they are accredited in early education. Ask if children can pick activities tailored to their interests and if there is a schedule that is followed each day.
10. Relax Most importantly, you should feel 100 percent comfortable about the facility and provider. After all, you are leaving your child with them. If you aren’t comfortable, you’ll worry all day and your child could be miserable. Spend as much time talking, observing and visiting as you need to know that you’ve found the right fit for both you and your child.